April 29, 2017

Gonna miss these guys

I fly almost every week, Virgin whenever I can.  I truly appreciate the complete absence of long-winded achtung monologues from the cabin crew.  Instead they have nice boarding music, and for safety instructions this video:

Ok, it's not Abbey Road, but as airline safety instructions go, it's top of class, and raises the possibility that the people working for the airline are actually enjoying themselves (for completists, here is a behind-the-scenes documentary).

Hopefully Alaska will keep at least some of this as they exterminate the Virgin brand, and continue to operate a beating-free, bunny-safe airline, unlike some other operations I could name.  And, who knows, why not offer customers a little humor, pleasantness, and dignity.  Lord knows the industry has tried everything else.

The Fourth Master

Greek theatre (I only ever ready about it in British books, for some reason) seems always to be about the tragedians:  Aeschylus, stern, formal, noble; Sophocles, wise, clear-eyed, yet soulful; and Euripides, the controversial upstart, the realist, the man who, upon examining prior Greek tragedy found it somehow too trite and full of easy answers.

Aristophanes, the clown, is generally glossed over or gets a few lines at the end of the syllabus, although he does get five pages in Richard Jenkyns' very good Classical Literature:  A Pelican Introduction.  But, having re-read Frogs this week again for the first time since college, I am convinced Aristophanes is the one who would be right at home in modern society.  The Jon Stewart of ancient Athens, his comedies were packed with political messages and fart jokes, denunciations of demagogues and fart jokes, deep philosophizing, and also fart jokes.  And, although his work was technically the Old Comedy, even Wodehouse (a New Comedy man) might admire his plotting.

Translation is a serious problem with Aristophanes.  Some of the jokes are so sexual or scatalogical that older translations gloss over them, giving us a text that is less literal AND less funny.  Here is an example:  in Frogs Dionysus dresses up as Heracles and heads for the underworld to retrieve a proper tragedian for Athens, as both Euripides and Sophocles had died the year before.  Dionysus can barely carry Heracles' club, and despite a bit of coaching from coaching quickly proves he not ready to wear the big man's sandals.  It plays like this in Paul Roche's enjoyable 2005 translation:
AEACUS: [peering from the threshold] So it’s you, 
you insolent piece of shit! Yes, shit, shittiest shit! 
You beat up our dog, Cerberus, 
and after nearly throttling him dragged him away with you. 
That hound was in my care. 
Now you’re well and truly in the soup. 
The black-hearted rock of Styx confronts you. 
The bleeding peaks of Acheron beetle above you.
The greyhounds of Cocytus and the dreaded Echidna § 
are ready to rip up your insides, 
and the giant eel of Tartesia will squeeze out your lungs. 
Besides, the Theirasian Gorgons will chew your bleeding 
balls and your 
guts as well. 
I’m off split arse to bring them here 
and give you hell.

Roche continues...
[AEACUS hurries away as DIONYSUS faints.]XANTHIAS (his servant): My, my, what d’you think you’re doing?
DIONYSUS: My butt runneth over. Let us pray.
XANTHIAS: Get to your feet, you damn fool, before anyone sees you.
DIONYSUS: But I feel faint. Do get me a sponge for my . . . my heart.  
XANTHIAS: [leaves and returns with a sponge]
Here, use it.
[He watches DIONYSUS wiping his bottom.]
Golden gods of Olympus! Is that where you keep your heart?  
DIONYSUS: Can’t help it— it got a fright and skedaddled down to my behind.
XANTHIAS: You’re the most abject coward, human or divine.
DIONYSUS: Me, a coward, just because I asked for a sponge? I’m the bravest man alive, bar none.
XANTHIAS: What would someone else have done?
DIONYSUS: A coward would have lain sprawled in his stinking mess, but I not only raised myself but sponged myself clean.

Here, via Project Gutenberg, is the same exchange as translated by  Benjamin Bickley Rogers (1828-1919):
  XAN. Hallo! what now?
  DIO. I've done it: call the god.
  XAN. Get up, you laughing-stock; get up directly, Before you're seen.
  DIO. What, _I_ get up? I'm fainting. Please dab a sponge of water on my
  XAN. Here!
  DIO. Dab it, you.
  XAN. Where? O, ye golden gods, Lies your heart THERE?
  DIO. It got so terrified
  It fluttered down into my stomach's pit.
  XAN. Cowardliest of gods and men!
  DIO. The cowardliest? I? What I, who asked you for a sponge, a thing
  A coward never would have done!
  XAN. What then?
  DIO. A coward would have lain there wallowing;
  But I stood up, and wiped myself withal.

Roche's translation has been reviewed critically by various pedants, but it has this going for it:  as well as being reasonably accurate, it is pretty funny.  And Roche, who did this translation in his late eighties, was clearly out of fucks to give. This is exactly the right attitude.

Here is a performance of the play (with good subtitles) from Cambridge in 2013:

Other highlights, keyed to the above performance:
  • The Frog Chorus, which was the first bit of classical literature that ever made me laugh (starts around 13:00).
  • The Debate of the Tragedians (starts around 37:00), in which Aeschylus ultimately defeats Euripides by pointing out that all of his best verses can be completed with the phrase "a cruet of oil" (e.g., 44:07).
  • The Dilemma of Dionysus (48:37), which Roche translates as: "they’re friends of mine, these men, and I certainly don’t want to decide between them or make an enemy of either. One amuses me. The other is a master."  
That last one is worthy of Wilde, and perfectly in-character for Dionysus.  But it's also a serious moment for an audience sitting in a ruined country, reflecting on where it all went wrong.  The failure to make peace on favorable terms?  The catastrophic expedition to Sicily?  Aristophanes makes the audience face it:  the giants are gone, and the greatest ones have been gone the longest.  And yet, even at this late stage of corruption they remain more focused on amusement than mastery.

As the Laird said the other day, thank goodness that's all behind us.
  • For your further listening pleasure:  Mr. Bragg et al on Greek comedy (link)

April 28, 2017

Guest blogger #2 recommends

April 26, 2017

The hell with ya

Oh here we go, ESPN laying off another 8,000 people I've never heard of.  Oh the drama, the agony...wait a minute...YOU LAID OFF ETHAN STRAUSS?!

Here is a good article by Ethan Strauss.

April 25, 2017

Aristophanes checks in

The Big A gets after Cleon in The Knights:
  • A demagogue must be neither an educated nor an honest man; he has to be an ignoramus and a rogue.
  • Mix and knead together all the state business as you do for your sausages. To win the people, always cook them some savoury that pleases them. Besides, you possess all the attributes of a demagogue; a screeching, horrible voice, a perverse, crossgrained nature and the language of the market-place. In you all is united which is needful for governing.
  • You [demagogues] are like the fishers for eels; in still waters they catch nothing, but if they thoroughly stir up the slime, their fishing is good; in the same way it's only in troublous times that you line your pockets.

Oh wait...we can just ignore him


April 24, 2017


Ebert:  This movie from Hollywood's poverty row, shot in six days, filled with technical errors and ham-handed narrative, starring a man who can only pout and a woman who can only sneer, should have faded from sight soon after it was released in 1945. And yet it lives on, haunting and creepy, an embodiment of the guilty soul of film noir. No one who has seen it has easily forgotten it.

Thomson:  Edgar G. Ulmer was Viennese. He had designed for Max Reinhardt and F. W. Murnau, and he came to America in 1930. He began directing in 1934 and worked for thirty years, usually on B pictures. He seems always to have been hanging on by his fingernails, yet he was plainly very smart and highly talented. Half a dozen of his pictures (Ruthless, The Naked Dawn, for instance) are still classics of the underground that existed before “independent” film came along. He was interviewed, and he talked like a pirate king. Yet how did he survive? And how is a film like Detour endurable? I don’t mean that in a derogatory way. The film is a portrait of hell, and brilliantly done. It was made for Producers Releasing Corporation, with Leon Fromkess as producer. The credits on the picture say that Martin Goldsmith wrote it from his own novel. Benjamin H. Kline did the photography. The film runs 67 minutes.

David Thomson, "Have You Seen . . . ?"


April 23, 2017

Two Centers

Jusuf Nurkic of the Trailblazers played game 3 on a broken leg.  Here is what he had to say about that (in his rich Eastern European accent):

  • "I think nobody was expecting I play tonight.  But I try. I had to try."
  • "We know I'm not the same guy I'm supposed to be on defensive end and offensive end. But we decide to try. The start was pretty OK, but (the) pain level was high. I try to fight through, but sometimes just couldn't."
  • "That's a normal thing. I play with broke leg. So (there) should be pain."
  • "It's OK," Nurkic said, when asked how his leg felt afterward. "It's a broke leg. I can't heal in one day. I gave it my best (in) this time. I wish I was healthy. But, unfortunately, I'm not."
[ UPDATE - Nurkic's nickname is:  The Bosnian Beast ]


Nenê (birth name: Maybyner Rodney Hilário) decimated OKC tonight, with 12-12 shooting in 24 minutes.

He was big.  He was strong.  He was mighty.  He was brutally effective.  He breathed fire. 
OK, maybe not the last one.  But the Rockets backup center and designated hit man was a sizzling 12-for-12 shooting, which tied the NBA playoff record for most field goals without a miss and practically burned down the house at Chesapeake Energy Arena. 
“It was kind of a man’s game and he’s a man,” said coach Mike D’Antoni.  “He was unbelievable in all facets.  That’s Nene.  It doesn’t surprise me...”
He tossed aside any and everybody in an OKC uniform that crossed his path, knocking them over in their orange uniforms like they were traffic cones and he was a tank.  He took interior feeds from James Harden for dunks.  He followed up missed jumpers by his teammates for dunks.  He went into the brutal rugby style scrums in the paint and ripped away rebounds for more dunks. 
Nene did everything in the 113-109 win that gave the Rockets a 3-1 lead in the series except drag the Thunder back to his cave and beat them over the head with a club. 

The terrifying shortage no one is talking about

[W]e need to seek out new, sustainable poisons so we aren't reliant on foreign poisons. This is the only way we can guarantee our country's poison security, which is something we need to start thinking about. Unless mankind's course changes, we are headed for brutal wars over our poison supply. It may not be like the movies -- people wearing tire armor in a verdant, poison-free, flower-filled hellscape -- but it is coming.


April 22, 2017

The Economist: Why Aren't Millenials Buying Diamonds?

A cogent, comprehensive explanation.

April 20, 2017

Oh yeh!

April 19, 2017

A learned discourse on the bolo punch

An ancient race

Pinus longaeva, is among the longest-lived life forms on Earth. The oldest Pinus longaeva is more than 5,000 years old, making it the oldest known individual of any species.


[They're still pikers compared to Pando, though.]

April 15, 2017

Let's hope the new administration has the vision to do the right thing

Until just recently, cannibalism was considered rare and abnormal in both humans and other animals. Now zoologist Bill Schutt surveys the latest research and delves into biology and anthropology, as well as history, literature, mythology, and pop culture, to bring us the first full-scale work on what science has come to recognize as completely natural behavior.



April 14, 2017

How afraid of Barry Bonds were pitchers?

This afraid:

April 13, 2017

Hard time

Pretty good move there, Ed, stringing barbed wire across the bike path.  Gangsta!  Thug life!

Too bad you got caught.

What'd you get, five years?

Three years?


Oh come on, you were guilty as hell, and they just fined you?

Not even a fine?
Nope.  They sent me to thinking skills class.



April 10, 2017

Odyssey at Oracle


The charity auction went well.  As a member of the board of trustees I'm obliged to bid periodically, but there was no danger of my winning anything.  Palo Alto is rich beyond the dreams of avarice, and serious money was out for every item that came up.  Treasure hunts for kids were going for $6,000, week-long vacation rentals in Paris and Lake Tahoe were well into five digits, and a holistic health consultation went for a price that might also have bought a ranch in Argentina.

So, when the two front-row Warriors tickets came up, I placed a few perfunctory bids without much thought.  Flashing my paddle inattentively, I meant only to get the price up into the normal rarefied zone where the market was clearing.  But I had miscalculated.  A sudden hush brought me to high alert, a moment just long enough for me to reflect on my own ineptitude before the auctioneer fixed me in his gaze, pointed, and pronounced judgment:  "SOLD!"  As cheers erupted and a local tycoon high-fived me, my mind had already grasped in toto the double calamity of a deeply disgruntled spouse, and a straitened retirement.

From Quonset to Quonset in three generations

Only later did it occur to me that some good might come of this.  After some lively family dialogue,  two more tickets were procured at reasonable cost, and the boys took their seats along radio row.  The elders ascended to a more economical spot in the upper reaches of Oracle Arena.

Act 1:  A word from our 6th-best player

For a meaningless late season game, this one had some unusual overtones.  With John Wall and Bradley Beal, the Washington Wizards are one of the few teams that can match the Warriors' fine guard play.  They don't lack for size or toughness, either: they have a giant center named Marcin Gortat who sank every shot I saw him take in warmups, while chewing on a shot put he had in his free hand.  Also, he almost broke Kevin Durant's leg when the teams met in February.

Before the game the Wizards also were:
  • In possession of their first division title since 1979
  • In a position to sweep their (two game) season series with the Warriors, which no other team has done this year
  • But...flying in from LA on the second half of a back-to-back
We got off to a nice, competitive start, and then Shaun Livingston ambled onto the court.  I will not clutter this blog-post with yet another enumeration of his virtues, but geez he is good.  His feats in this game included a play where he beat the Wizards downcourt on his one good leg, received a touchdown pass from Draymond Green, and executed this tasteful and understated reverse dunk:

Wizards now plan to draft guys who can run fast next year

Livingston celebrated in his usual manner, jogging unobstrusively from the scene while bowing his head slightly in shame that he had not quite lived up to the Platonic ideal of the perfect basketball play, then sternly resolving to try to do better next time.

Here are some of the other things he did:

Let's analyze:

So, seven-for-nine, with most of his points in the paint.  Not bad for a guard off the bench with physical limitations.

Act 2:  The Wizard's Ball

You hear it all the time listening on the radio, but in person it was even more obvious:  Every Warriors game starts normally, and then, like a well-crafted horror movie, odd things start happening, usually in the vicinity of Steph Curry.  Curry gradually whips up the winds of madness until the very fabric of time and space is distorted and one questions one's own sanity.  He's like Cthulhu with better endorsement deals.

Here is the complete opus (embedded below), from which I would draw your attention to...
  1. The now-immortal quadruple-fake humiliation of Gortat (1:30)
  2. Finishing that crazy play by Iguodala (3:30)
  3. That mind-bending reverse layup (4:01)
    •  Jim Barnett:  "You don't see other people do that, do you?"  Bob Fitzgerald: "No." 
  4. That weird finger roll (4:25)
  5.  That other mind-bending reverse layup (4:50), and...
  6.  The bizarro floater (5:59) at which point no one seems to have the slightest interest in guarding him.

At some point you just don't know what to say, or you end up babbling.  Late in the third period I looked a couple of rows down and saw Ludwig Wittgenstein waving his arms and screaming like an idiot.

Now, calm in my study with my books around me, I can analyze the game dispassionately.  I have determined that Curry did in fact play very well, by which I mean he rained fiery death on the Wizards from all over the court:
Curry had 42 for the game.  Next-best on the Warriors was Thompson, with 23...

Act 3:  I Accuse Myself!

Even before the final act, the Wizards were facing a long flight home.  Then it became much worse.  In addition to defeat, the Wizards found in their visit to Oracle...shame, dishonor, ignominy, disgrace.  Albert Burneko, a Wizards fan who writes for Deadspin, picks up the story:  
I am going to hold my nose and take a deep breath and summarize this as quickly as I can: In the closing seconds of the one-sided beatdown the Golden State Warriors put on the Washington Wizards last night in Oakland, Wizards guard Brandon Jennings committed a flagrant foul by shoving Warriors center JaVale McGee as the latter attempted a three-pointer.  

After the game Wizard's players spoke of honor and of unwritten rules, of not letting the other team show you up.  This sort of made sense until people started posting videos of them doing exactly what they claimed to despise, all season long.

Burneko concludes:
The very worst part is, you know the Warriors are loving this. To whatever extent they were making a deliberate statement by leaving Steph Curry and Draymond Green in the game in the closing minutes, they could scarcely have hoped it would work quite this well: to prompt one of the top teams in the East to blow out the back of its diaper and then blame them for it. The Wizards have given a megaphone to that statement. They have highlighted it in fluorescent yellow. We fucked up one of the East’s top teams so bad its players tattled on us to mommy. 
In my capacity as a person who does sports blogs for a living, NBA players giving heedless quotes about how their opponents are big meanies for stomping them too hard is the grade-A good shit. Mewl forever, pissbabies! On the other hand, in my capacity as a Wizards fan, I am going to wear a paper bag over my head for the rest of the month.


"What should we do this weekend?" I asked my wife.
"I don't know," she said.  "Could we go play some basketball?"
"Sure," I said.

And we did.


Joe Thomas on the atrocity du jour


April 08, 2017

Rogue One, annotated

This is seriously good - an intelligent and worthwhile look at an intelligent and beautiful film.

"And they kept attacking me...!"

April 07, 2017


April 06, 2017

Death before dishonor

Géza Maróczy (pronounced GAY-zaw MAHR-otsee not MarOXy) died on May 29, 1951, shortly after reaching his eighty-first birthday. With his passing the chess world lost another of those world masters whose fame started in the previous century. In Maróczy, however, the chess world lost more than a grandmaster and a fine gentleman. It lost the unchallenged champion of chivalry in chess.
This chivalry is hard to describe. It is sportsmanship with a medieval touch. It is the Occidental version of the Asian’s anxiety about “face.” It is a basic and noble belief that a man should prefer to die than do wrong, to kill rather than submit to an insult; that honor is sacred.

The Magyar nation (often misleadingly called Hungarian) has always been famous for its chivalry, and chivalry was certainly the norm at the time Maróczy was born. An autonomous part of the Austro-Hungarian empire, it had its own laws that respected the feelings of its indigenous Magyars. Dueling, for example, though outlawed in Austria, was common in Hungary. Nobles of the Budapest parliament often settled their disputes that way, a practice that was approved by the general citizenry. The typical Hungarian man was chivalrous, charming, proud, gallant, chauvinistic, and, at times, intolerant. Hungarian schoolchildren were taught in their Latin classes that Extra Hungariam non est vita (There is no life beyond Hungary), and, like grandmaster Rudolf Charousek, they held to that idea even at the brink of starvation.

Such was the atmosphere in which Maróczy grew up. He was born March 3, 1870, in Szeged, Hungary’s second city, where to this day the genuine Magyar lifestyle is most clearly preserved. This allows us to understand the sixty-one-year-old Maróczy’s decision, during the tournament at Bled in 1931, to challenge Nimzovitch to a pistol duel. It turned out to be much ado about nothing, though, when Nimzovitch flatly refused to participate in what he termed his own assassination. Maróczy was satisfied. To his way of thinking, refusal to accept such a challenge was, as a matter of honor, worse than being shot to death.

Yet Maróczy was hardly a warrior. He was, in fact, an extremely peaceful personality. I suspect that, had that duel actually taken place, Maróczy would have been hard put to decide which end of the pistol to hold.


April 04, 2017

Buzz is fine


April 01, 2017

Throw the ball to that guy

With Durant about to come back to spoil the Warrior's recent winning streak, I found myself last night wondering anew what they see in this guy.  In some ways I think of Durant as the Jeff George of basketball - his team never wins, but you come away from the game thinking "my goodness, what a talent!"

We see now how well the Warriors can play without him - so why has Curry been so deferential with Durant on the court?  Why did they all go to recruit him in the off-season?  Enquiring minds want to know.  So, to take a break from all the spreadsheet work I do at the office, I made up a little spreadsheet of all NBA small forwards with more than 550 minutes played this season.  The horizontal axis is minutes played, the vertical is True Shooting Percentage (definition here).

Oh.  They throw him the ball, apparently, because there is no small forward in the NBA more likely to convert a possession into points. Ok then...

But he's also kind of skinny and fragile looking, not known as a defensive player.  What if we replace minutes with the Bill Simmons 'STOCKS' (steals plus blocks) metric?

Ah.  In addition to being the most efficient offensive small forward, he is also one of the best in the Association at turning an opponent's possession into a turnover, significantly behind only the astonishing and terrifying Antetokounmpo.  Well, I reluctantly conclude that he seems like a useful person to have on your team.

If one were needed, here is a short little resume on Mr. Durant: